Month: April 2009

To Find the Best Search Engine for Your Enterprise, Cultivate Your Expert Network

Your best expert resource for discovering products and tools for your enterprise is the network you trust most and communicate with the most comfortably. It is well established that a great trait to bring into any professional situation is the ability to listen. Sometimes it is hard to remember that when you are being asked a lot of questions. So, the best way to get a jump start on listening is to come to professional meetings with a list of questions you want to get answered before the meeting wraps up.

One of my own discoveries is that whether I am conducting a meeting, moderating or just attending, seeking out people who might have experiences that could be educational for me is both a way to get into a nice business relationship but it also helps break the ice. It can be awkward going to meetings where we know nobody in advance. Having an agenda that involves meeting people is the ultimate networking model. You might notice that a lot of social networking sites, like LinkedIn, have included a function for asking questions. This has proven popular and I know several people who have leveraged it in beneficial ways.

I have just come from two days at the Infonortics Search Engine meeting and many of you will soon be attending the Enterprise Search Summit in New York, The Gilbane Group conference in San Francisco or SemTech 2009 in San Jose. Here are a few suggestions on how to go shopping for great insight on search tools while establishing a relationship could nurture both you and those you engage for many years to come. Any one of these can start the conversation but think ahead about what you want to ask next once you have your initial answer:

Q: Hi, are you at this conference because you are just beginning to look for a search engine or to find answers about one you are already using? Depending on the answer you will want to find out what they have used, looked at, tested or are researching and what they have learned in the process.

Q: Hi, I see you are from ABC Corporation. How are you involved with search technology there? The answer will give you an idea what line of questioning you might pursue based on the person’s presumed experience and knowledge. IT people, developers, content managers or expert searchers will each have a different view of the technologies they have or would like to use. Any role offers a unique perspective for you to draw out and understand for your own institution. Knowing how different professionals view search in other organizations can give you insight into the people you may have to team with in your own organization.

Q: Have you heard any talks at this meeting that have been particularly helpful for you? What have you learned that you didn’t know about before? Follow up, and if you sense that some expertise you have might be interesting, sharing it can begin to build a trusted exchange that might prove helpful to you both.

Q: What are a couple of mandatory requirements for a search engine in your organization? Have you been using anything recently that you feel is serving you well or are you having problems? Any time you get a response from another attendee that indicates they are experienced and engaged with specific products, learn everything you can about their: selection process, implementation, deployment and user experiences. Talk to them about what their objectives were and whether and how those were met.

Going to meetings, chatting up attendees, asking questions, and sharing what you know are great ways to build a community of practice outside your internal communities. This brings fresh insights and gives you a valuable networking resource. Don’t leave without contact information so you can continue the dialogue. Continue it with online exchanges based on their preference for communication.

Finally, the expense of going to meetings is increasingly hard to justify. But the benefit of finding key vendors and others with a common purpose in one place where you can quickly coalesce around the topic of search (or any other topic) gives you an easy sociability that can then be sustained. To solidify what you have learned and from whom, write a trip report; broadly disseminate it to all those in your enterprise network or team, as well as your boss. This sharing will be appreciated and should underscore the value you know how to accrue from technical meetings. Learning is an essential part of job growth and letting others know that you do it well is important.

Social Networking and Socializing: Difference Ways to Different Kinds of Knowledge

Having been mired for several weeks in a technological misalignment of the stars, I have to question how social tools (the technological kind) might have saved me boatloads of aggravation and time. Consider having all of these happen in one month:

  • Wireless router that couldn’t support wireless (waiting for second replacement)
  • IBM ThinkPad power adapter not usable with Lenovo ThinkPad
  • Cable service not able to get a signal from street down my 1,000 ft. driveway
  • Two cable modem failures and replacements
  • ISP spam blocker blocking good stuff but does not retain it as suspect mail for review
  • 10 hours of downtime from my web hosting/e-mail service provider

As one who guides and advises companies on enterprise search selection, implementation and deployment, and various aspects of knowledge asset management, it is a little ironic that I have my own challenges finding quality answers and knowledge to support my home office. I have used these tools in my search for answers:

  • Phone – vendor customer service
  • Chat – vendor website customer service
  • Email – vendor customer service, and to some colleagues for advice
  • Web searching – vendor site search, Internet general search engines
  • Twitter – comments about troubles; search for similar comments by others

So far, phone discussions have been the only pathway to resolutions, and in one case a technician’s house call was required. Most of the issues are still open, however emails and automated phone calls solicit feedback about my satisfaction with support services daily.

What does this have to do with search? I am searching to solve very specific problems, not an uncommon reason to search within the enterprise. As an independent consultant, my “enterprise” is my professional network, the support services I pay for and the WWW. When I fail to garner information I need from electronic sources, I reach out directly to experts in my personal network for answers. Even then, I find electronic dialog mechanisms that require typing a back-and-forth Q & A session to be pretty painful. Usually, one of us resorts to the phone or an in-person session to “see” what is really going on.

What have I learned?

  1. When a resolution is needed quickly and efficiently, talking to someone who is really an expert is the best path.
  2. When I can’t find the answer on-line, I need to find an expert.
  3. When I can’t find an answer or an expert, I flounder and waste huge amounts of time.

Conclusion:

Social tools (public platforms, social search, email, and even phone) require substantive work or communication skill by participants to establish a benefit from communication interchanges. Contextual hooks are needed to improve the results of information exchanges. Socializing is critical to expanding our networks of experts in a way that builds relationships in which we can freely reach out and expect a productive dialogue when we have a need to know. This is something to work at and consider when we embrace social technologies. It isn’t the technology tool that makes us social, it is the surrounding sharing and communicating (aka socializing) that breeds the trusting and trusted relationships that will improve our search for answers. Social networks and platforms may give us the tools to search for and share content. But it is the socializing that adds rich context to make it more likely that the expert we want and the answers we seek are the most beneficial.

When User Communities Take Control Everyone Wins

One of the LinkedIn groups I belong to has a great discussion started by Tom Burgmans , Enterprise Search Specialist at Wolters Kluwer, a publisher. The group is Enterprise Search Engine Professionals and has over 1,600 members. Tom began a discussion with this question: FAST Technical Users Group? As I read his call to action by the FAST user community, and the subsequent cheers in response from group members, I was delighted to see the swell of support. Here’s why.

This is a perfect example of where social tools meet a need. A suggestion I also made as a panelist at FastForward 2009 has emerged spontaneously as a direct result of market forces. My observation had been that the FAST user conference was largely attended by IT folks, and the overwhelming number of keynotes and session topics focused on social tools, not especially tied directly to search either. A recommended call to action directed to Microsoft was that they host a platform of social tools to facilitate genuine user community sharing around the FAST product. The people who most need this are search administrators and content managers who presumably have some governance responsibilities for searchable content.

In Tom’s suggestion we see the effective use of a social tool to generate interest among members, a large and focused audience who serve as a great test of the viability of his idea.

That is neat!

Almost 30 years ago when I ran a software company, we (the company) organized and ran annual user group meetings in tandem with a large professional conference that most of our customers attended. These meetings were very successful, well attended by 40 – 50% of our customers. Over almost 20 years the group spawned a lot of professional and collegial relationships that gave our small user community a sense of collective investment in furthering the improvement and support of the product around which they met. Efforts to turn over total control of the user group to the community were not successful because, in those days, the infrastructure needed for planning, organizing and running meetings across the North American geography did not exist. My company provided that support mechanism out of necessity.

However, three regional user groups began their own programs to share knowledge, and the entire user community collectively published a “cookbook” of source code for reports that many of the users had built for use with the database application and wanted to share with others.

Today the opportunities for building these communities of practice have a vast number of “free” social tools to employ, so that barrier has gone away. More important, the benefits to the user community are limitless. It gets to drive discussion about the product, share hints, workarounds, and tips for successful implementations. The user community gets to decide what is important, what is needed in the knowledge-base of operational information. It can call for product changes, improvements and use social platforms for galvanizing the community around specific issues.

One of the best outcomes we saw with our own user community was around a visitation day at our offices for customers to meet together to “test-drive” an alpha version of a major new release. We purposely stayed out of the meeting for an extended period. Later we learned that when each had developed a “wish list” of changes and tweaks to the release, some rather marginal choices had died a natural death as a result of the “wisdom of the crowd.” This was an ideal scenario for us as a development company because we did not have to disappoint any individual users with a unilateral decision to reject their ideas.

Trust me when I recommend to the enterprise search user community, you will empower yourselves in ways you can’t imagine when you join forces with other customers to drive the improvements and success of any product you use and value.

Search Fundamentals: Why Search Fails Us

When search fails me, the reasons may be hard to discover as a user but once on the inside of an enterprise I can learn a lot about what is going on. After listening to scores of business case studies, personal experiences and reading about rampant dissatisfaction with search it is discouraging to recognize the simple reasons for most negative outcomes.

Consider this scenario. I was attempting to find the address of the office of a major global platform vendor (one of the largest) that sells an entire suite of enterprise search and content management software products. One can usually find business location information from links on the home page of any corporate Web site or at least from the site representing the division one is visiting. But there was no such link for this corporate site. Then using the “search” box and later the “advanced search” option, trying a dozen variations of the division name, town in which the office is located, and product names I struck out on every query. All paths lead to a page with a single corporate address, or a couple of other remote addresses, and links to web pages that contained no address. Even those pages with addresses had no link to directions. I followed up with queries using Google and these got me back to the same dead-ends. Finally, I found the address through various online non-specific business directories.

This experience lead to a couple of conclusions about why my search failed: 1. The content does not exist; there is no such listing of locations. 2. The search engine is not properly tuned or metadata is not supplied with labels such as “locations,” “directions,” “business offices,” etc. The immediate solution for this case is to ensure that someone with practical business sense and usability competency has ownership of the overall web site experience to make sure that essential company data is available and easy to find. Or, if the company has made a conscious decision not to publish that information, at the least they should have a page stating the alternative for potential visitors as to how they can find their destination or to what office they can direct postal mail.

I had to two reasons for needing this information; one was a visit to an individual who was not available to give me the address in time to reach the office, and the second was a personal follow-up letter after someone from the company had been a speaker at an event I chaired. As things stand, I have been left with personal skepticism about the commitment of this company to build, produce and actually use content management or search products that will be truly responsive to needs of their potential buyers. When you don’t or can’t showcase your products, I question “why.” This is not a technology problem; it is a human factors and human resource allocation problem.

This brings me to some search fundamentals:

  • No content – If content that customers or employees expect to find is not included in explicit directives to the search engine for the repositories to be crawled and indexed, it will never be found.
  • No metadata – Any content lacking explicit language likely to be used by a searcher will probably not be found if it also lacks sufficient metadata.
  • Poor indexing or search rule base – If the content being searched is business documents without many unique contextual “hooks,” such as product names, technical terminology or topics of narrow interest, the search engine being used must be “smart” enough to glean the intent of the searcher from the context of query. In my case, I supplied a half a dozen terms to layer the context, tried them in different combinations, with and without quotations around phrases, but nothing worked.

Conclusion, if you really don’t want searchers to find what they want to find, it is not hard at all to compromise findability. I will not arrive at my destination and you won’t get any first class letters from me.

March Madness in the Search Industry

In keeping with conventional wisdom, it looks like a number of entrepreneurs are using the economic downturn as opportunity time, judging from the larger than normal number of announcements in the enterprise search sector. The Microsoft acquisition of FAST, Autonomy’s foray into the document/content management market, and Google’s Search Appliance ramping its customer base are old news BUT we have a sweep of changes. Newcomers to the enterprise search marketplace and news of innovative releases of mature products really perked up in March. Here are my favorite announcements and events in chronological order and the reasons why I find them interesting:

Travis, Paul. March 2, 2009 Digital Reef Comes Out of Stealth Mode. 03/02/2009. Byteandswitch.com.

Startup offers content management platform to index unstructured data for use in e-discovery, risk mitigation, and storage optimization. Here is the first evidence that entrepreneurs see opportunity for filling a niche vacuum. In the legal market the options have been limited and pretty costly, especially for small firms. This will be an interesting one to watch. http://www.digitalreefinc.com/

Banking, Finance, and Investment Taxonomy Now Available from the the Taxonomy Experts at WAND. 03/02/2009, PR Web (press release), Ferndale,WA,USA

The taxonomy experts at WAND have made this financial taxonomy available now for integration into any enterprise search software. I have been talking with Ross Lehr, CEO at Wand, for over a year about his suite of vertical market taxonomies and how best to leverage them. I am delighted that Wand is now actively engaged with a number of enterprise search and content management firms, enabling them to better support their customers’ need for navigation. The Wand taxonomies offer a launching point from which organizations can customize and enhance the vocabulary to match their internal or customer interests. http://www.wandinc.com/main/default.aspx

Miller, Mark. Lucid Imagination » Add our Lucene Ecosystem Search Engine to Firefox. 03/02/2009

I predicted back in January that open source search and search appliances were going to spawn a whole new industry of services providers and expert integrators because there are just not enough search experts to staff in-house experts in all the companies that are adopting these two types of search products. Well, it is happening and these guys at Lucid are some of the smartest search technologists around. Here is an announcement that introduces you to a taste of what they can do. Check it out and check them out at http://www.lucidimagination.com/

To see the full article with commentary about: social search at NASA, QueSearch, MaxxCat, Aardvark on social search, Attivio, ConceptSearching, Google user-group, Simplexo, Endeca, Linguamatics, Coveo, dtSearch and ISYS.

Microsharing has benefits for NASA. 03/04/2009.

It has been about 18 months since I wrote on social search and this report reveals a program that takes the concept to a new level, integrating content management, expertise locators and search in a nifty model. To learn more about NASAsphere, read this report written by Celeste Merryman. Findings from the NASAsphere Pilot. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology Knowledge Arciteture (sic) and Technology Task [Force]. 08/20/2008. The success of the pilot project is underscored in this report recommendation: the NASAsphere pilot team recommends that NASAsphere be implemented as an “official” employee social networking and communication tool. This project is not about enterprise search per se, it just reflects how leveraging content and human expertise using social networks requires a “findability” component to have a successful outcome. Conversely, social tools play a huge role in improving findability.

March 16, 2009. QueSearch: Unlocking the Value of Structured Data with Universal Search really caught my eye with their claim to “universal search” (yes, another) for large and mid-size organizations.

This offering with a starting price of $19,500, is available immediately, with software and appliance deployment options. I tried to find out more about their founders and origins on their Web site without luck but did track down a Wikipedia article and a neat YouTube interview with the two founders, Steven Yaskin and Paul Tenberg. It explains how they are leveraging Google tools and open source to deliver solutions.

Stronger, Better, Faster — MaxxCat’s New Search Appliance Aspires to Be Google Search Appliance Killer, by Marketwire. 03/11/2009.

This statement explains why the announcement caught my attention: MaxxCat product developers cite “poor performance and intrinsic limitations of Google Mini and Google Search Appliance” as the impetus to develop the device. The enterprise search appliance, EX-5000, is over seven times faster than Google Search Appliance (GSA) and the small business search appliance, the XB-250, is 16 times faster than Google Mini. There is nothing like challenging the leading search appliance company with a statement like that to throw down the gauntlet. OK I’m watching and will be delighted to read or hear from early users.

Just one more take on “social search” as we learn about Aardvark: Answering the Tough Questions, David Hornik on VentureBlog. 03/12/2009

This week the Aardvark team is launching the fruits of that labor at South By Southwest (SXSW). They have built a “social search engine” that lives inside your IM and email. It allows you to ask questions of Aardvark, which then goes about determining who among your friends and friends of friends is most qualified to answer those questions. As the Aardvark team point out in their blog, Social Search is particularly well suited to answer subjective questions where “context” is important. I am not going to quibble now but I think I would have but this under my category of “semantic search” and natural language processing. Until we see it in action, who knows?

A new position at Attivio was announced on March 16th, Attivio Promotes John O’Neil to Chief Scientist, which tells me that they are still expanding at the end of their first official year in business.

Getting to the point, 03/18/2009, KMWorld. http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=53070

Several announcements about Concept Searching’s release v. 4 of its flagship product, conceptClassifier for SharePoint highlight the fact that Microsoft’s acquisition of FAST has not slowed the number of enterprise search solution companies that continue to partner with or offer independent solutions for SharePoint. In this case the company offers its own standalone concept search solution applications for other content domains but is continuing to bank on lots of business from the SharePoint user community. This relationship is reflected in these statements: The company says features include a new installer that enables installation in a SharePoint environment in less than 20 minutes, requires no programmatic support and all functionality can be turned on or off using standard Microsoft SharePoint controls. Full integration with Microsoft Content Types and greater support for multiple taxonomies are also included in this release. Once the FAST search server becomes a staple for Microsoft SharePoint shops, there will undoubtedly be fallout for some of these partners.

Being invited to the Google Enterprise Search Summit in Cambridge, MA on March 19, 2009 was an opportunity for me to visit Google’s local offices and meet a bunch of customers.

They were a pretty enthusiastic crowd and are enjoying a lot of attention as this division of Google works to join the ranks of other enterprise application software companies. I suspect that it is a whole new venture for them to be entertaining customers in their offices in a “user-group like” forum but the Google speakers were energetic and clearly love the entrepreneurial aspects of being a newish run-away success within a run-away successful company. New customer announcements continue to flow from Google with SITA (The State Information Technology Agency in South Africa) acquiring GSA to drive an enterprise-wide research project. The solution will also be deployed and implemented by JSE-listed IT solutions and services company Faritec, and RR Donnelly. Several EMC users were represented at the meeting, which made me ask why they aren’t using the search tools being rolled out by the Documentum division…well, don’t ask.

Evans, Steve. Simplexo boosts public sector search options. Computer Business Review – UK. 03/18/2009.

This is interesting as an alternative to the Lucene/solr scene, UK-based open source enterprise search vendor Simplexo has launched a new search platform aimed at the public sector, which aims to enable central and local government departments to simultaneously search multiple disparate data sources across the organisation on demand. I have wondered when we would see some other open source offerings.

And all of the preceding is about just the startups (plus EMC at Google) and lesser known company activity. This was not a slow month. I don’t want all my contacts in the “established” search market to think that I am not paying attention because I am. I’ve exchanged communications with or been briefed by these known companies with news about new releases, advancing market share, or new executive teams. In no particular order these were the highlights of the month:

Endeca announced three new platforms on Mar 23, 2009: Endeca Announces the Endeca Publishing Suite, Giving Editors Unprecedented Control Over the Online Experience; Endeca Announces the Endeca Commerce Suite, Giving Retailers Continuous Targeted Merchandizing; and Endeca Unveils McKinley Release of the Information Access Platform, Allowing for Faster and Easier Deployment of Search Applications

Linguamatics Agile Text Mining Platform to Be Used by Novo Nordisk. 03/26/2009

I had a fine briefing by Coveo’s CEO Laurent Simoneau and Michel Besmer new VP of Global Marketing and see them making great strides capturing market share across numerous verticals where rapid deployment and implementation are a big selling point. They also just announced: Bell Mobility and Coveo Partner to Create Enterprise Search from Bell, an Exclusive Enterprise-Grade Mobile Search Solution.

A new Version 7.6 of a mainstay, plug-and-play search solution for SMBs since 1991, dtSearch, was just released. 3/24/2009

And finally, ISYS is having a great growth path with a new technology release, ISYS File Readers, new executives and a new project … completed in conjunction with ArnoldIT.com. Steve Arnold, industry expert and author of the Beyond Search blog, compiled more than a decade of Google patent documents. To offer a more powerful method for analyzing and mining this content, we produced the Google Patent Search Demonstration Site, powered by our ISYS: web application.

Weatherwise, March, 2009 is out like a lamb but hot, hot, hot when it comes to search.

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